Suggestions for Table Decorations at Christmas - 1898
THERE is a great lack of gaiety of every kind this season, but however anxious we may all be on account of the war, and however quietly we may all be living, Christmas claims cannot be withstood, and it is pleasant to realize that the preparations for this festive season are on as liberal a scale as they have ever been.
The particular fashion of the moment would seem to be, if I may so express it, for large set pieces. Pictures are framed with leaves and blooms, and gigantic baskets are finding a place on our Sideboards, while there is rat her a suspicion of funereal ornamentation in some of the arrangements of the moment, for I note in many of the large houses on side-tables and set up on easels, devices formed of blooms put close together, and occasionally on a back-ground of moss, which is very pretty in certain mixtures and quite ugly in others. The orange colored chrysanthemum appears mostly on these backgrounds to advantage.
I give you my experience for what it is worth, but I think what we are pleased to call Society on Christmas day at dinnertime is wont to ignore the Christmas element a little. At lunch time, when the children are present, holly and mistletoe have it all their own way, but at dinnertime hot-house flowers, roses from the South, and not seldom orange blossom and oranges are employed for decoration.
So I will begin with the lunch-table. In the middle first spread an oblong piece of either thick white cartridge paper, or brown, and sprinkle a sufficiency of sand on this to make the holly stand up here and there, for the center of the table should represent a low bed of holly. If you can template making this foundation very damp, and do not wish to spoil the table-cloth, have a piece of mackintosh below it.
Choose for the center the ordinary holly, with as many berries as you can, and then border it with variegated holly; you must be guided for the size of the center by the length of your table and the number of people. Out of the middle of this on either side, and in each corner, you should have a bouquet of white winter roses, with as much of their foliage as you can find, and the way to make these look their best and stand up perkily is to make use of the bands of lead, about an inch wide, which can be pressed into any form, and hold the stalks quite perfectly.
Like most of the best inventions, it is simplicity itself. The flowers should be set in a shallow saucer, with a little water, which ought to be easily hidden by the holly, but provided the end of the stalks touch the liquid that is all that is needed. Just above the line of plates all round have small alternate sprays of mistletoe and Christmas, and in front of every guest a tiny bouquet of violets or any other bloom that you can obtain in most abundance; tie these with ribbon and write upon them in gold ink (which is very cheap and easily obtainable) the name of the juvenile, and you will find these will be greatly valued.
So many of the viands are usually put upon the table, that this would be quite a sufficiency of decoration, and I find the prettiest of menu cards take the form of collapsible ships--The Mistletoe or The Christmas—it is best to alternate them, and you may be sure the children will carry them off with delight if you will let them.
Christmas dinner would be quite another thing; of course there will be casques, and these, like the rest of our extravagant age, grow more costly each year. This season they are on quite a new basis; they contain any number of cups, caps, fans, and small trinkets, and I hear that one of the most acceptable forms of present-giving will be a gigantic cracker, 40 inches long, which is to be suspended over head before the distribution of gifts.
They are all very littering, being adorned with crinkled ringe in gold, silver, and bright-tinted paper, into which are set naturally fashioned paper flowers, and huge hoops, with sunflowers in the center, and pansies and violets. The blending of colors is particularly beautiful, and as they figure on most of the dinner tables, they will certainly be a worthy addition.
An ideal table is formed with huge mother-of-pearl nautical shells fixed in silver stands and filled with roses, violets and lilies of the valley, one shell united to the other by festoons of smilax, all culminating in a huge centerpiece, beautiful to see, with one shell rising higher than the rest, two or three very tiny ones swaying underneath, all filled with the same blooms; the menus are shells also, and so are the guest cards.
While descanting on this Christmas dinner, I must not omit to say that the bills of fare are now considerably shortened; joints, such as a saddle of mutton, roast beef, and even delicate house lamb, is often omitted, and after the entries come the game course—wild duck with orange sauce being a particular feature of the moment. Whether a hungry man, after a long walk, would feel satisfied, I am unprepared to say, but our menus have been far too long, and perhaps we are beginning to err on the wrong side.
These nautilus shells are quite easy to fill, and by means of the lead slips, which are to be bought at most places, and above others at Liberty's, where they were first brought out, it takes but little to fill them, and each bloom asserts its own individuality. I always think at a Christmas party there ought to be either buttonholes or some little gift in sweets, after the American fashion. I have seen of late glistening butterflies, with a bag of sweets at the back.
The old-established firm of Green, in Crawford Street, Portman Square, who have the arrangement of most of the smartest tables in London, are full of new ideas for this winter season. Very appropriate to it are their scarlet decorations; they are in harmony with Christmas berries, and are the best possible contrast to white.
The flowers employed are poinsettias, geraniums, euphorbias, and tulips, and as much scarlet foliage as possible, and for this we have to be principally indebted to croton leaves, and mingling with them are the pale William's-eye and the delicate rein of the maiden hair; it would be difficult to find anything more beautiful.
There has been a disposition of late to do away with dinner table centers, but the Green firm have one exquisite arrangement, with a broad strip of scarlet cloth carried down the center, and adorned with scarlet and white flowers, the cloth fringed with foliage to soften the edge, Christmas roses, holly, and mistletoe, figuring in the decorations.
Another old and useful friend is returning to us—the ribbon bow—and in such skillful hands it has a great element of beauty. I have been particularly delighted with some scarlet satin bows drawn out in a long shape with the flowers rising out of the middle. A large one is placed in the center of the table, and slightly smaller ones at each end, and little ones at each four corners, all displaying the pale white and green of the lily of the valley, a beautiful contrast to the vivid red of the ribbon.
These bows are, of course, wired, and have an invisible lining, into which the flowers can be placed.
The race of lightness is one of the most desirability virtues in the present table decoration, and these bows are all connected with smilax carried down the table. Another pretty idea is scarlet ribbon in triple rows placed down the entire length, and broken up with crescents here and there, filled with scarlet blooms, a white aigrette rising from the middle of each, the beautiful scarlet of the ribbon emphasized by accompanying rows of smilax. An arrangement on these lines looks all the better for a handsome silver centerpiece, and it is good news for those who have them that these old family treasures may once more see the light.
J’aime le militaire is the sentiment that re-echoes through the land, and one of Messrs. Green's greatest novelties specially commends itself to us. It is a kettle-drum, out of which rises three flags—red, white, -and blue—with beautiful flowers flowing from either side. This makes the prettiest of trophies in the center and could be rendered delightful receptacles for bonbons.
This ought to play their part in Christmas decorations, and so I can cordially recommend to you another of their novel tables, the most pretty receptacles for bonbons, made in pale green, scarlet or gold silk, one for the center, four for each corner, and a couple for either end. The bonbons should be of the same color as the silks, and always with the accompaniment of pretty flowers, and even at Christmas time what a variety of choice we have in our day; there are arums, pure and stately, the eximinium lilies, Chrysanthemums of every sort, and they have never been more beautifully grown, lilies of the valley, Roman hyacinths, eucharis lilies, gardenias, azaleas, pelargoniums, and violets.
Mrs. Brooks, “Table Decoration: Some Suggestions for Christmas Time,” in The Epicure: A Journal of Taste, Vol. VII, No. 73, December 1898, p. 32-34